Before the Hong Kong government introduced its Conservation Policy in 2007, employment prospects for architects who wanted to specialise in the field of conservation were few and far between.
Since then, employment opportunities have increased significantly as a result of an increasing number of conservation projects and initiatives supported by this policy, and the growing demand for suitably qualified professionals from leading international private practices that are opening offices in the city.
The University of Hong Kong (HKU) has been enabling local architects to benefit from this rising demand for their services through its master's of science in conservation programme, which it introduced in 2000.
'Since 2007, almost all of our graduates are professionally engaged in conservation or conservation-related professions, with most of them finding jobs with government agencies in Hong Kong, Macau and elsewhere,' explains Dr Lee Ho-yin, director of the architectural conservation programme (ACP) at HKU.
'Others are in private practice, with architectural, engineering, surveying, real estate and property development companies, but still working on conservation-related projects,' he says. 'A number of outstanding graduates have become successful conservation consultants, with some being headhunted by private consultancies to be appointed to middle and senior management positions.'
The teaching approach used in the master of science in conservation programme is based on the use of case studies and extensive field trips. The programme comprises 16 core courses, with four courses being field studies to various locations, which are either World Heritage sites or important local heritage zones in various places in China, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
During these field trips, students work with local government agencies, universities, NGOs and conservation consultants on an aspect of heritage site conservation, such as site management, tourism development or the adaptive reuse of the site.
The programme places a lot of emphasis on the practical application of theories, with up to 50 per cent of course time being based on field work. Lectures are often delivered at appropriately chosen field locations.
Most lecturers involved in the programme are well-published academics and experienced practising professionals who are well known internationally in the field of architectural conservation. The programme also boasts Carrie Lam, the secretary of development from the Hong Kong governments' Development Bureau, as one of its regular lecturers.
Students are often taken to conservation work sites that are currently being worked on, to enable them to experience conservation during the construction stage and to understand the actual work processes involved.
The programme is offered by the Architecture Conservation Programme (ACP), set up within HKU's faculty of architecture in 2000 to meet the growing professional need for integrating the discipline of conservation in the fields of architecture, engineering, facilities management, landscape architecture, project management, surveying, urban planning and urban design.
The ACP's founders, Professors Lee Ho-yin, David Lung and Lynne Di Stefano, recognised that the future needs of Hong Kong's conservation movement would have to go beyond the restrictive focus of conservation efforts at the time (preservation and presentation of artefacts and museums exhibits), to focus more on buildings and their surrounding environments.
'ACP is the first programme of its kind in China, as well as one of the first in the Far East,' says Lee. 'One of the key elements that sets ACP apart from other postgraduate programmes in any institute is the high level of professionalism and commitment among our students and graduates. Even after graduation, our graduates still refer to themselves as members of the ACP Community.'
Pleased to call herself a member of the ACP community is Fanny Ang, a graduate from the class of 2008. Ang found both the personal and professional fulfilment she was looking for through her experiences in the programme.
'How buildings shape a city over time, help nurture the sense of belonging for a community and thus reflect the culture of that community, was a topic I was attracted to since my previous studies in architecture,' says Ang.
'And more importantly, I love to travel so much. ACP, which is a programme about heritage with field trips, was obviously a perfect match for me,' she adds.
After graduating with a distinction in 2008, Ang won first prize in the 'Revitalisation of Tai O' design competition, which she had worked on during her studies. She also worked with the Antiquities and Monuments Office as a senior heritage officer before she was headhunted by international architectural practice Purcell Miller Tritton.
'The programme gave me a sense of how broad the issue [of conservation] can be, and I am very glad to have learned new knowledge from outside my profession,' Ang adds. 'It requires practical training, which means to learn while working - on a voluntary basis - for a conservation practitioner. I was so lucky to have the opportunity to work with the UNESCO Asia Pacific headquarters in Bangkok - what a valuable experience.'
The programme can be completed by local students on a part-time basis for two years, or full-time by local and overseas students over one year.
Tuition is HK$136,864. Applicants must hold a recognised bachelor's degree or an equivalent qualification in a relevant discipline, and should be fluent in English.